I would state this less flatly if I werent myself in my fifties, and if I hadnt recently turned into the kind of person that gets all emotional at oldies shows, despite the fact that I almost never get emotional anywhere else. (My wife, the luminous, incandescent, excruciatingly delightful Mrs. K., will back me up on this; to her, I am the second coming of Bob Newhart -deadpan, a post -even though we both acknowledge that, inside, I am a seething inferno.)
I first noticed this a few years ago, when I almost had a complete mental breakdown at a Beach Boys show in Hyannis. I died a thousand times. I wept uncontrollably; I yelled obscenities. I lost it. I dont know what happened. And then, nothing like that for years, just fine, as if nothing happened. Stuff would occur -good friends would die or be killed, or lose it in any of a thousand ways -but I was a rock, I was not shook, and life would go on, having almost as little effect on me as ever.
Then last week I went to see the Lovin Spoonful at the Melody Tent, and somehow re-entered the eye of the hurricane.
Is it true that its all nostalgia, that the reason I love these bands is because I was finding out amazing things about them at the same time as I was finding out amazing things about myself and the rest of the world? Is it really just totally because I was that age, newly romantic, first feeling both that good and that bad -is it really just circumstance, just timing? Or were songs like Daydream and Dont Worry Baby and Rain on the Roof just plain more profound than anything that ever happened before or since? I know what the answer probably is, but my heart wont give in.
Back in the sixties, when they had all their hits, the Lovin Spoonful were the epitome of a great, strange, New York-via-the-Ozarks sophisticated, unpretentious, direct vibe, gentle but firm. They happened to sing Do You Believe in Magic at a time I was starting to, and when I think about them I think about being sixteen and getting drunk for the first time, and falling in love for the first time.
I had a girlfriend in NYC., and the bands we were hung up on were both local bands: the Young Rascals and the Lovin Spoonful. Compared to the Young Rascals, the Lovin Spoonful were puppies -not sweaty, not intense, of no particular ethnic group; gentle, really, friendly even, completely uncool, but with these songs that just went through us, shambling, mid-tempo songs of devotion, good vibes, and sunny afternoons: You Baby and You Didnt Have To Be So Nice and Didnt Wanna Have To Do It and Darlin Be Home Soon. We figured John Sebastian had to be about the coolest guy in the world.
Then, after only a few years, the band broke up, unceremoniously, amidst vague rumors of drug busts, indiscretion, and betrayal. Sebastian made a couple of disappointing solo records and lost his voice; the rest of the band made an album or two without him and then threw in the towel.
A couple of years ago, they (original drummer and bassist Joe Butler and Steve Boone and Sebastian replacement Jerry Yester) picked the towel back up again and started doing some shows, and darned if they didnt have a moment or two at the Melody Tent, especially on Daydream, which they had the wisdom and precision to perform largely without bass and drums and in the most flawless, perfect, relaxed tempo you could imagine (which is not as easy as it sounds -its hard for most bands to resist the temptation to make everything faster and more exciting live.)
They did make the audience sing and whistle along (which always annoys me -it seems to me that if youre paying that much money, you should be able to leave that sort of thing to the pros), but they somehow resisted the clapping-over-the-head gesture that I so hate -for that song, anyway. They looked old -especially Joe Butler, with his silvery coif, no longer on the drums but out in front singing and employing an assortment of ghastly gestures and Mike Love-like anti-moves -but, hell, Daydream was never exactly cutting edge to begin with, and they just nailed it, and you had to hand it to them. People still needed it, it still felt right, the old bastards could still do it, still provide this elusive bliss, against all odds. I misted up.
Then they did a medley of Mr. Tambourine Man, Walk Away Renee, California Dreaming, and a couple of other songs they had nothing to do with, sounding like an anonymous lounge band, and I wanted to kill them. Utter senile garbage and pandering, and Id be thinking, how can this be going over? and looking at the happy crowd of middle-agers as if theyd just hatched from pods in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, thinking, damn, how did we ever get here? How did we go from all those possibilities to being these tired old jerks who cant tell the difference between good muzak and bad, these pathetic old people with beers and shorts in a big tent watching these washed-up mutton heads? I was furious; I was spitting; I was crying again.
A minute later theyre doing Summer in the City and Im thinking, man! what a song! Where does that song come from? It doesnt sound like anything then or now, and yknow? theyre playing it pretty darn good. Damn, they lost everything, and now, after thirty years or whatever, theyre still hanging on to the last shreds of the incredible thing they once were, the last link to this vanishing feeling. Right, misting up again.
Confused! Crazy! Is this the worst thing Ive ever seen, or the best? Is my life truly as over as everyone elses? Or is there still some point in believing in those ancient dreams buried so far under all that dust and decay?
Old people are pathetic.